Wing Chun Techniques: The Secret Weapon Against Leg Attacks

In 1966, karate legend Joe Lewis rocketed to stardom by winning Jhoon Rhee’s U.S. Nationals in Washington, D.C. Incredibly, it was his first tournament, and he won every single point with only one technique — the side kick.

For six years, Chuck Norris ruled the karate world with his spinning kicks. He won virtually every major title between 1965 and 1970, including six grand championships. He retired, undefeated, in 1970.

From 1974 to 1981, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace dominated the full-contact karate circuit. His lightning-fast left roundhouse and hook kicks rose to legendary status as he stunned one opponent after another. He retired 21-0, with 11 knockouts. Superfoot, indeed.

Those champions and many more have demonstrated their awesome kicking abilities in and out of the ring. In fact, the martial arts in general are best-known for their kicks. Even Bruce Lee is remembered more for his dynamic on-screen kicking than for the intricate trapping and striking techniques of jeet kune do.

If kicking is the hallmark of the martial arts, it follows logically that to become a superior fighter, you have to learn how to deal with those seemingly indefensible lower-limb assaults. How do you stop a technique that, once mastered, appears to be unstoppable? One answer can be found within William Cheung’s traditional wing chun fighting system.

Mechanics of Kicking
The laws of physics hold that a force can have only one direction at a time. The longer a movement is committed to a certain direction, the longer it will take for it to change its direction. It has to run its course before it can move on to another path. When an opponent attacks with a kick as opposed to a punch, his foot must follow a longer path to reach you. Distance equals time, so the greater distance gives you more time to react. In dealing with kicks, then, the first step is to properly train your eyes, or visual reflexes, so you can readily determine how your opponent is attacking and which part of your body he is targeting.

Traditional wing chun teaches you to watch your opponent’s elbow to identify an upper-body strike — punch, palm strike, elbow and so on — because the movement of the elbow indicates the movement of the entire arm. The arm cannot move without the elbow going with it. The knee is to the leg as the elbow is to the arm. Thus, if you train yourself to watch the knee of your opponent’s attacking leg the instant he kicks, you will have the best chance of identifying the kick’s path and target.

If the opponent attempts to bridge the gap with a kick, he must commit himself to that direction of force. As a defense, you can do anything. You have not committed; therefore, as long as you are balanced and have mobile footwork, you are free to move in any direction. Your response should put you in the best position not only to defend yourself but also to counterattack.

Contingency Case
If your opponent executes a kick and it does not make contact — and it is your job to ensure that it doesn’t — he will leave you several openings to exploit:

Balance: When he kicks, he must balance on one leg — if only for a moment — and that means he is presenting an opening. In general, a person in a two-legged stance should be able to knock a person in a one-legged stance off-balance. Without a good base, it is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible for him to launch an effective blow.The groin: In most cases, executing a kick will leave his groin open to attack. The vulnerability may exist only for a moment, but if your eyes are well-trained, you will see the kick from its inception and you will be ready to pounce.The supporting leg: Because a force can have only one direction at a time, an opponent who commits to a non-jumping kick leaves his supporting leg virtually defenseless while his other leg is completing its motion. The knee and shin are the most common targets on the supporting leg.The kicking leg: Whenever a kick is in motion, several pressure points on the underside of the leg are exposed. They are small targets, but you can train yourself to attack them with a counter-kick.

Defending against a kick is all about timing. While the opponent’s leg is committed, the above-mentioned targets are most vulnerable. From a balanced and neutral position, you can time your response so you act during this fleeting but critical moment. If you move too soon, he may change course and adapt. If you move too late, you may miss the opening and get kicked.

Step by Step
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Because distance equals time, you should protect yourself against the most immediate threat — a linear attack — by controlling the centerline (the path that connects the center of your body with the center of your opponent’s body). You have now created a shield covering the shortest attack route; your opponent must try to charge through it or find a way around it.

Say your guard covers your center but your opponent still attacks with a kick. You use your eyes to determine the path of the strike (linear or circular) and the target (the upper, middle or lower part of your body). Once you have identified the strike’s commitment, step off the path of the attack. Again, proper footwork is crucial for ensuring that you will move to the right place at the right time.
You then must block or deflect the kick on or near the knee. Whenever possible, you should strive to deflect the attack, bumping it slightly off its intended course, and not stop it. If you stop it, you will have ended the kick’s commitment and your opponent can now attack again. Obviously, it is important to keep the leg in motion for as long as possible to give yourself time to exploit the opening.

If, however, you do need to stop it, you must then attack the opponent’s balance by controlling his knee. Even though the kick’s commitment has ended, he will still have a difficult time initiating another strike right away because his balance is committed downward. Plus, the muscles that lift the leg are weaker than the muscles that lower the leg, so you have gravity and anatomy on your side.

Once the kick is controlled and the initial opening has been exploited, your objective is to close the distance (get inside kicking range) and position yourself to the outside of the opponent’s leading elbow to continue your counter. This combination of position and counterattack serves multiple purposes:

By stepping off the path of the kick — to one side or the other but not straight back — you are in an excellent position to counter immediately. The lack of hesitation before your counter puts him on the defensive, thereby taking him off the offensive.Your position to the outside of his lead arm keeps you away from his rear arm because you are using his lead arm as a shield. Therefore, you are forced to deal with only one limb at a time.Your control of his lead elbow enables you to manipulate his balance, making it difficult for him to attack again.

Precision Blocking
Once you have identified the nature of the kick, you must decide which block to use. Traditional wing chun teaches two relevant rules:

If the kick is aimed at the middle or upper part of your body, you should use your arms to block. The specific block is determined by whether the kick is straight or circular.If the kick is aimed at the lower middle or lower part of your body, you should generally use your legs to block.

These principles require you to devote minimal motion to defense. That, in turn, allows for minimal commitment on your part to do the block, leaving you neutral and ready to instantly launch a counterattack rather than committing your balance forward as you reach down to block a low kick with your arm. In traditional wing chun, the principle of “seizing the critical moment” depends on your ability to identify an opening the instant it becomes an opening. Then you must be able to move into the best position to block and counter. The opening could be anywhere, so you must be prepared to go anywhere at anytime. It is essential to train the right and left sides of your body equally. If you have a dominant side, you will have an imbalance — one that might not mesh with the opening.

Furthermore, when your eyes develop the ability to see a kick forming before it is launched, you may be able to employ a wing chun leg attack or jam as a pre-emptive block. They are the quickest ways to put your opponent on the defensive without committing yourself first.

User Beware
Wing chun rarely advocates the use of kicks as a purely offensive weapon to begin an encounter. If your opponent has not yet committed to his attack, using your leg first leaves you committed and vulnerable. Therefore, you should concentrate on employing kicks as a counterattack immediately after a block. Once he has committed to his punch or kick, he will not be able to exploit your openings as readily as you can exploit his. In addition, you should aim your kicks at or below waist level. That means your leg will be committed to the attack for as short a time as possible and serving as a component of your balance for the maximum amount of time.

Traditional wing chun instructors often use a simple metaphor to further drive home the essence of their art’s kick-killing methods: If a hammer is aligned with the head of a nail and moved with sufficient force, it will drive the nail all the way into the board. However, if you learn how to recognize the impending blow before it begins and develop the reflexes to respond instantly, you not only can prevent the nail from being pounded flat but can also ensure that the toolbox remains locked and the hammer never even sees the light of day.

About the Author
Eric Oram has taught traditional wing chun for more than 20 years and is an actor, fight choreographer and freelance writer based in Los Angeles. To contact him, visit lawingchun.com.

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Wing Chun Kung Fu Grandmaster William Cheung Shows You How to Deal With Low Kicks From a Muay Thai Fighter!

Written By Raymond Horwitz – August 17, 2011

If you’re a wing chun practitioner, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Grandmaster William Cheung. A student of Ip Man, William Cheung lived and trained with the legendary wing chun master from 1954 to 1958. During his study of the Chinese martial art wing chun with Ip Man, William Cheung absorbed the traditional wing chun kung fu master’s complete teachings.

In his three-disc martial arts DVD collection, Street Fighting Applications of Wing Chun, Grandmaster William Cheung, the longtime friend and wing chun training partner of Bruce Lee (whom Cheung at one point introduced to Ip Man!), recalls some of his most dangerous street fights and deconstructs the techniques he used to survive the encounters.

In Street Fighting Applications of Wing Chun Volume 3: Muay Thai Melee, the narrative backdrop takes place in the spring of 1962 in Sydney. A friend of William Cheung’s who is being bullied by a fighter from Thailand asks the wing chun fighter for help. William Cheung confronts the Thai fighters and his partners, and it is a dangerous situation, pitting the traditional wing chun kung fu expert against three opponents with brass knuckles. As the fight went on, William Cheung was injured but still managed to devise some creative solutions to stay alive.

Learn how he did it in this DVD! In Street Fighting Applications of Wing Chun Volume 3: Muay Thai Melee, wing chun kung fu grandmaster William Cheung covers:

cross-arm drills for close-quarters fightingshin-kick drillsexecution of stances and entry techniquesdealing with elbow and knee strikesdefenses against low kicksdealing with multiple opponents

William Cheung is a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame (Kung Fu Artist of the Year, 1983), who has trained since the age of 10, originally under the legendary Ip Man. William Cheung currently operates a worldwide network of instructors based in Australia. During his decades of studying martial arts and Chinese medicine, William Cheung has also become an expert in meridians, pressure points and meditation dealing with internal energies. Today, William Cheung’s programs for the treatment of sports injuries and stress-related illnesses using ancient Chinese-medicine remedies are highly sought across the globe.

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How the Wooden Dummy Can Enhance Your Wing Chun Training

by Eric Oram and Robert W. Young
Photography by Rick Hustead | Lead photo provided courtesy of William Cheung – December 17, 2012

How the Wooden Dummy Can Enhance Your Wing Chun Training

“I fear not the man who practices 10,000 techniques once, but the man who practices one technique 10,000 times holds my respect.”

The gist of that old Chinese saying is obvious: The key to reaching the highest levels of any martial art is practice. Only by executing thousands of repetitions of your style’s blocks, kicks and strikes will you be able to use your strategies and techniques in a natural and spontaneous way. Without that kind of preparation, in a fight you’ll be forced to think about what you should do next when you ought to be doing it.

Traditional wing chun kung fu instructors address the need for practice by emphasizing to their students the importance of developing their reflexes. They stipulate, however, that you cannot rely on just any set of repeated movements to hone your ability to defend yourself. To ensure that you respond with optimal timing, balance and accuracy, you need to learn the lessons of the wooden dummy and integrate it into your wing chun training.

Enter the Wooden Dummy

For more than two millennia, the fighting monks of China’s Shaolin Temple have used clever training devices to supplement their martial arts education. Legends tell that the old southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian province featured a unique collection of man-made warriors.

Wing chun training grandmaster William Cheung during wooden dummy training.“There was a corridor that consisted of 108 wooden dummies representing 108 different attacking techniques,” says wing chun training expert and Black Belt Hall of Fame member William Cheung. “The monks would move down the hall and practice their defenses and counterattacks on them.”

After the Manchus razed the temple three centuries ago, one of the few surviving masters, a nun named Ng Mui, constructed a training device based on the principles of those dummies. “The positioning of the three arms and one leg of the wooden dummy was designed for 108 specific techniques parallel to the 108 techniques performed on the original dummies,” William Cheung says.

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In the old days, dummies were built using a large central trunk — sometimes as long as 9 feet — with a tapered bottom, he continues. “A hole would be dug in the ground, and the dummy would be buried about three feet or four feet deep with gravel packed around it,” William Cheung explains. “The gravel would give way slightly when the wooden dummy was struck in order to soften the practitioner’s contact point.”

In traditional Shaolin kung fu, hard contact with a training dummy was used to condition the practitioner’s arms in preparation for combat. Although some martial artists still aim for that goal, wing chun training does not focus on making direct contact with the device’s wooden appendages. Instead, it uses the dummy to instill the ability to deflect or release an opponent’s force. This principle is particularly important for people who must fend off a larger or stronger assailant or who simply wish to employ a more efficient and fluid method of defense.

William Cheung Demonstrates Wooden Dummy Exercises
for Use in Wing Chun Training

Reap the Benefits in Your Wing Chun Training

Wooden-dummy workouts help you develop all the attributes needed to actualize wing chun’s avoid-using-force-against-force principle: correct angle (of deflection), balance, accuracy, timing, mobility, positioning, speed, flow and power. But the training also endows you with numerous other skills and abilities.

Perhaps the most obvious is toughness. “Because wing chun uses the palms and forearms to block kicks — for example, the rolling block and the cross-arm block — it’s necessary to toughen these weapons, and that’s what wooden-dummy training does,” William Cheung says.

Even though the dummy is an inanimate object, it can still help you polish your visual and contact reflexes during wing chun training. It does so by teaching you how to execute blocks and strikes in concert with each other, thus making them almost simultaneous parry-and-counter combinations. Just before you execute your counterstrike, there’s a moment of contact when your parry deflects the incoming blow — or the arm of the wooden dummy that represents the limb of the assailant. This contact is your cue to unleash your strike. To an observer, however, your full-speed block and strike appear to arrive simultaneously.

Over time, making contact with the dummy becomes your trigger to launch a counterattack. The result is the development of your contact reflexes, which constitute an essential element of real-world combat proficiency.

Using the wooden dummy in your wing chun training also builds your visual reflexes. It requires a little more imagination and focus than does the sharpening of your contact reflexes, however, for you must pretend not to know what comes next in the form you’re doing. By allowing yourself to be surprised by the next strike, you force your eyes to visually lock onto your wooden opponent before following up.

William Cheung and Eric Oram Demonstrate the Application of
Wooden-Dummy Exercises in Wing Chun Training

Stay Safe During Wooden-Dummy Training

Because wooden dummies are usually made of teak, it’s essential to practice all your offensive and defensive moves slowly and softly at first to minimize the impacts your body is forced to absorb. Then, as your accuracy and technique improve, you can put more energy and intention into it.

“In wooden-dummy training, the blocking areas of the arms are the palms and the inside and outside of the forearms,” wing chun training master William Cheung says. “With the lower extremities, it’s the outside and inside of the legs just below the knees.”

Whichever body part you use to make contact, care must be taken to minimize the impact between your body and the wooden dummy — especially your bones and pressure points.

“When striking with the hands, your primary weapons are the heel of the palm, the side of the palm, the knuckles and the phoenix knuckles,” William Cheung explains. “With the feet, the ball of the foot, the side of the foot and the heel are used. If the wooden dummy is adequately padded, the elbows and knees can be trained, as well. However, without proper padding, serious injury to the arms and legs may result.”

Always remember that the deflection of the incoming force is your goal. You are not out to meet an opposing force head-on. According to William Cheung, if you take pains to implement that principle before you try to gradually build your speed and power, you’ll heighten your ability to deflect while reducing the risk of injury.

“Beginners can benefit from the wooden dummy without unnecessary risk of injury as long as they are patient and cautious during the early stages of their training,” William Cheung says. “The key is to make light contact until the body is sufficiently conditioned.”

The ultimate goal of wooden-dummy training is the establishment of a good basic skill set you can tap into when you train with a live partner. That will enable you to respond with the right movements and principles without undue thought. Then, no matter where your martial arts journey may lead, you’ll be as prepared as you can be to handle any contingency that emerges — with an old wooden friend as your guide.

About the Author:
Eric Oram is a freelance writer and senior disciple of William Cheung. He has taught wing chun for two decades. When he is not engaged in wing chun training, teaching or writing, he works as an actor and fight choreographer. To contact
Eric Oram, visit lawingchun.com. His book, Modern Wing Chun Kung Fu: A Guide to Practical Combat and Self-Defense is available in our online store. To learn more wing chun techniques from William Cheung, check out Wing Chun Kung Fu. In this five-DVD set, William Cheung — a student of Yip Man, a longtime friend of Bruce Lee and a member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame — demonstrates wooden-dummy exercises, empty-hand forms, reflex training, chi sao drills and more!

Click here for a variety of books and DVDs by William Cheung and Eric Oram!

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